Sarah Shook and the Disarmers | SOPHIE | Poppy Ackroyd | Cosmo Sheldrake (pictured) | Daniel Docherty
Episode Six of 45rpm selections
1. The ‘Charm Offensive’ – Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: “Good as Gold”
We’re a wide and accepting parish at 45 RPM. Genre-wise, I would describe this as a bit of old fashioned alt-Americana but, equally, I have heard Ms Shook and her band described as ‘country-punk’, which I guess could be equally as fitting.
Of course, the Disarmers and their, well, disarming front woman hail from the country of Ol’ Glory – North Carolina to be precise – and they specialise in the sort of honest, homespun, spit-n-shine music that we’ve all heard a thousand times before.
Witness Spotify’s most popular track from the band; the charmingly-named ‘Fuck Up’. Lyrical content: fist fights, cocaine and whiskey – nothing we haven’t heard before, no doubt.
And yet, in an excellent week for folk / country releases, this track, above all others, stood out to me.
Sure, like a spaghetti bolognaise prepared by a fingerless, Transylvanian hooker, there’s plenty in here that I wouldn’t necessarily order, given a choice of ingredients but, from those introductory guitar strums that sound like a de-tuned ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ to the Union Station swamp-stomp bass line, to the Frank Turner-style sing-along of the chorus, ‘Good as Gold’ is one of the most straight up feel-good tracks of the year as far as I’m concerned.
You see, for all that Shook may present the appearance of not caring about appearances, she certainly works bloody hard on those finishing touches. Either that, or the melodies come so easily to her that she shouldn’t be as bloody miserable as she is.
Listen to this track on repeat and I challenge you to not be attempting to warble along at the top of your voice by the third time around. What more could you ask for to kick your weekend off?
2. The ‘Military Coup’ – SOPHIE: “Faceshopping”
That haggis-hankersome lot feel like they’re quite en vogue at the moment, what with all those curlers being on TV all the time (yes, I like the little blonde too) and Scottish producer Sophie Xeon playing on my car stereo every time I get into it after a tough day in the office.
Twas a mere four years ago that SOPHIE (as she’s better known) came to my attention with audio’s answer to popping candy that was her single LEMONADE.
Since then, she’s been doing a lot of production for acts such as Charli XCX and Cashmere Cat – which has sort of put me off her (not to mention, featuring on a McDonalds advert).
But now she returns with the altogether more aggressive Faceshopping. Coming out spitting like the secret lovechild of Trent Reznor and Grimes, ‘Faceshopping’ is hard, it’s ugly and it’s wonderfully inventive.
What I particularly love about it is that, for it’s angularity and gear-grinding stuttering, it maintains a drive and groove that you would expect from someone with such aforementioned pop credentials.
I feel like the lyrics may contain some caustic social commentary around the veneer and surface of modern existence… or maybe they’re just a load of old pony.
Either way, I think this is brilliant and a welcome return to form from the ginger step-child of EDM.
3. The ‘Peaceful Protest’ – Poppy Ackroyd: “The Calm Before”
Though I primarily know her as a member of the Hidden Orchestra, London-born Ackroyd is a classically trained pianist and violinist who’s really made her name through writing her own compositions solely for those two instruments… albeit with a fair bit of manipulation and multi-tracking for added effect.
In 2017, she signed to Bjork’s label One Little Indian and, a couple of weeks ago, released the album ‘Resolve’ which, though also piano and violin-based, features – for the first time – a range of guest musicians playing hang (check out the beautiful “Time” from the album to hear more of this), clarinet, flute and cello.
I’ve chosen this track not just because it’s one of the lead singles from the record but because I think it’s one of the most evocative and appropriately-named tracks off the album.
The first-half, in particular, feels ominous for all its surface serenity. The heavy weather the title alludes to very definitely feels near in the fluttering flutes; the electricity in the air is palpable.
And yet, halfway through, there is a clear change in timbre as the piece becomes definitively more positive, more major and, yes, calmer.
Those searching for a follow-up track called ‘The Storm’ will be disappointed. But not me.
The dynamic lent to her band’s music through being primarily double-drummer-led can make their music feel a little over-dramatic for me at times; like Sigur Ros, I feel like I often listen to the Hidden Orchestra wondering what they might sound like if they just kept to the simple beauty that exists in their quieter moments.
Poppy Ackroyd’s music feels like the answer to that question.
Comparisons to Nils Frahm and Max Richter seem to follow her wherever she goes… comparisons I find a little demeaning despite those two artist’s unquestioned reputations within the ambient world. For me, Ackroyd is more multi-layered, more dynamic and, truthfully, more interesting than either of those two.
Resolve – for me – is the sound of a complex, powerful gauntlet being thrown down to these establishment figures of the genre.
4. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ – Cosmo Sheldrake: “Wriggle”
The Guardian once described Cosmo Sheldrake thus; “think Mumford and Sons if they didn’t sound as though they’d been designed by marketing men at M&S”.
It’s a comment I simultaneously admire for it’s dry wit and abhor for pointing out the unfortunate yet undeniable truth that Sheldrake’s natural singing voice does bear more than a passing resemblance to that of Mr. Mumford (or whatever his name is).
Fortunately, unlike ‘…The Sons’ our man Cosmo’s sound is quite versatile. He’s been known, for example, to use a loop station on his voice, which, itself, is capable of Mongolian throat singing – checked that box again 😉 – and Tibetan chanting.
He also plays roughly 30 instruments, including the infinitely useful didgeridoo, penny whistle and sousaphone… oh, and he does a bit of TED-talking in his spare time so, you know, he’s got a bit of talent about him.
I’ve been sitting on this particular track for a week or two, unsure of whether I love it for it’s rakish, bawdy whimsy or find it, frankly, fucking annoying.
On any given day, I could still fall either side of the coin but more and more, I’m finding myself charmed by the sheer playful inventiveness of Wriggle.
The instrumentation, typically, draws from a wide and varied palette (at times, I even expect him to break into Peter and the Wolf such are it’s classical leanings.) And the chorus is as decidedly hooky as it is kooky.
Sure, the lyrics are bonkers and, at times, it feels like it sways a little close to bolshevik folk music for my liking (perhaps it’s all the ‘Hey’s) but, hey, this is the Guerilla Warfare choice; what did you expect?
5. The ‘Quiet Riot’ – Daniel Docherty: “Life is What We Make of It”
And so we come to Daniel Doherty – another Scotsman (four Brits out of five this week!) – who rounds out the selection with this wistful, wondering folk ballad about dreams, regrets and how “hope is just a way we deal with our lives”.
Docherty is still very much an emerging artist, with the EP of the same name that this song comes from being only his second.
As is evident from this cut, he comes from the finger-picking and percussive guitar music tradition of John Martyn and Andy McKee. But lots of musicians have done that in recent years – Newton Faulkner, Ed Sheeran and Ben Howard to name but a few… how authentic it feels often comes down to the quality of the songwriting, and I think Docherty has got that in spades.
“Life is What We Make of It” sorta sounds to me like a track Left of the Dealer might have knocked together after a boozy night in The Castle before discarding (which still would have made it a stone-wall classic by the way). Of course, it doesn’t help that Mr. Docherty has an unmistakable Jakey B, Shottingham twang in his voice as he sings about the object of his affection not “giving a fock”.
This song is released tomorrow and the EP is available on Spotify already. Well worth a listen on a long train journey back into the arms of the woman you love and a warm bowl of tomato soup. Or something. Enjoy!
And so we reach a cease-fire for this week. Click here to listen to the 45 RPM Spotify Playlist in full.
If you like what you hear (or even if you don’t), feel free to engage in dialogue with me @45rpmPodcasts on Twitter.
The silence is broken again next week when I’ll return with five more selections for your consideration. Until then, thank you and go in peace.